Unbeknownst to me, I had a breakthrough with my emotional overload, but I'll get to that in a minute...
First, school is going well for both of us. David loves it. He lights up when we get out of the car, and he goes into full-flirt mode as we cross the school driveway, passing by his first flirting victims, to his wheelchair or Kidwalk (depending on the week) parked next to the school door waiting for him. We load him up and let him drive or walk himself (still with some assistance on our part) through the pair of double doors into the long hallway that takes him to his classroom, flirting as often as possible along the way. Abby proudly walks with us and usually helps in some way, either by helping him steer his Kidwalk or carrying his backpack. She loves it, and it warms my heart that she does. When we drop him off in his classroom, he continues to be all smiles. He gives us kisses before we leave, occasionally watching us walk out of the room, with a slightly smaller smile, but never with tears. Because he loves it, I love it for him. On top of all that, he's learning. It's still subtle, but he's learning. I can tell he's more comfortable in new situations. He figured out that he can roll around on the floor with purpose, to explore, not just for exercise. We're hoping to use this new discovery as a motivation for crawling. He loves being around his classmates. I know that he's in an environment at school that I couldn't provide for him at home. It's a good thing for all of us.
On to Anniversary Season... This year, April 3rd happened to be the day that the Dallas area had a large-scale tornado outbreak. Needless to say, I was a little distracted from the anniversary. The kids and I weathered it out in our pantry while Justin was at the fire station. After the literal storms passed and I was in bed that night, I had more of a sad heart than feelings of complete despair and grief. I looked at my clock. 10:10. Three years ago at that time we were in a frantic rush to get out of the house and get to the hospital. 10:23. We were on the road racing to the hospital. I reflected on the chaos in our lives as I remembered it. Then I thought about the chaos in David's room, of which we saw the aftermath. It was a mess in there.
Then, for the first time, I thought about what David went through. Not just the physical trauma of CPR - I could see the finger print bruises on his sternum for days following the event - but what happened to him inside his mind. How did God minister to him during that time? What did he experience? I can hardly fathom that it was fear, so I reason that it was peace. That brought a few peaceful tears to my eyes, not completely from grief, but awe. I fell asleep thinking that I'll never know in this life how God cared directly for David during those 70 minutes and the days and weeks to follow.
Anniversary Season brought a little more healing this year, for which I prayed. I didn't fully realize how much healing it brought until I paid a visit to a sweet baby and her mother on Easter Sunday.
Our church is about a mile from David's hospital. As we were singing on Easter Sunday, I once more reflected back to Easter three years earlier. Immediately, I knew I wanted to pay an impromptu visit to the CHSU (heart unit) to see if there were any families I could encourage. At the hospital, I entered the elevator to head up to the 3rd floor and the familiar hospital-smell hit me. "Ugh. We're going to be back here soon." I put that thought away and headed into the heart unit. I explained to the nurse at the desk, one of David's former nurses, why I was there. She lead me to the door of a sweet little girl named Charlotte and her mother, Sarah.
Talking with Sarah, I quickly learned that our children had so much in common. Same defect, an eventful recovery, longer-than normal hospital stay, a young older sibling at home, etc.
Within the first few moments of visiting, I felt something familiar come over me that I hadn't experienced since I saw David after his last open-heart surgery: I was about to faint. Not wanting to share my secret with Sarah, I simply sat down in a nearby chair and focused on breathing and praying while she spoke. She shared that Charlotte would be going home later in the week after a 9-week stay. She asked me questions. I gave brief answers because as soon as I started to speak I felt more and more light-headed. After about 20 minutes, part of which was shared with a hospital volunteer who stopped by to visit, I wished Sarah a happy Easter and went back to the first floor where my family patiently waited for me.
Wow. That was really unexpected. I wondered why that particular visit affected me in that way, when I had visited other children in far worse condition and I was fine. I thought, maybe it's because David's about to be back there and the elevator smell really triggered something in my mind. Maybe I should have eaten something before I went into her room. I also found talking about it, or even really thinking about it produced a physiological response. Even now writing this, I'm a little shivery (and it's not because of the cool temperature in my aunt's basement).
Before I left Charlotte's room, I got the name of Charlotte's blog so I could follow her progress in the months and years to come. Despite being fainty, there was something about this family that I really connected with which made it all the more frustrating to me that I was fainty because it could have been a really good visit! So, I pulled up the blog and read through Charlotte's ups and downs. It was such a remarkable journey that she went through. My heart went out to her family even more.
On the Tuesday following Easter, her blog post was about gearing up to go home, a very exciting and busy time for a family. I eagerly checked for more updates Wednesday, and then again Thursday evening. What I read floored me. The post was entitled, "She Closed Her Eyes."
"It is with heavy hearts that we share with you OUR BELOVED - SWEET CHARLOTTE - unexpectedly died at 7:03 pm. Her heart was fine up until the second it stopped..."
I'm not sure I have the words to explain the complete disbelief, shock, and overwhelming sadness I felt at reading that post. Within seconds, I started to sob. I cried for a long time. Luckily the kids were in bed and Justin was at the fire station, so I let it all out, snot and all. Every CHD death is sad, and for some reason I connect with certain families more than others, and therefore mourn the loss a little more. But with Charlotte, something was very personal and very, very close-to-home. I didn't just cry, I sobbed.
Why? How? I just saw her and she was fine. They were about to leave the next day! How?
The following Sunday, one week from the day I met them, I attended the visitation for Charlotte. Her parents were doing amazingly well. I didn't have the nerve to peak into the blanket-lined, Moses-style basket that held Charlotte's body for fear of fainting. I felt strongly, however, that God lead me to them on Easter and I wanted to continue to walk with them through this storm in whatever way I could and let God use it to comfort them in whatever way He would.
Through Charlotte, I learned that I'm no longer stuck. I'm healing. Charlotte didn't heal me, but God used her to show me that He's healing me. I am fortunate to be the benefactor of a tiny piece of God's plan for Charlotte's life and legacy. I feel emotions again. I'm not completely numb. These are good things, even if it means they come with fainting and tear-filled mourning. These are good things. This is a breakthrough for me, and it's an answer to a prayer.
***I'm grateful to have known Charlotte and to know her parents. Please remember them in your prayers as they grieve the loss of their daughter and learn their new normal. If you would like to offer them some encouragement you can visit their blog, www.hintofhope.blogspot.com.***